Former South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis on his frontbench ambitions and four 'demanding' years

“I’m not giving it all up to come back and shuffle about and potter around the libraries, I’ve come back because I want to make a difference.”
Former Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis pictured in November 2021Former Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis pictured in November 2021
Former Mayor of South Yorkshire Dan Jarvis pictured in November 2021

Dan Jarvis has spent the last four years spinning plates.

The MP for Barnsley Central for more than a decade, from 2018 until just a fortnight ago, he also served as South Yorkshire’s first metro mayor. As he is keen to point out, that makes him one of only two people in the current House of Commons to have served on the green benches and in a city hall.

The other? Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The mayoral has now been handed on to Oliver Coppard, so it would be easy to assume that the pace of his political life would be set to slow, but if anything, the former Army officer seems determined to maintain the pace, and take a spot at the forefront of Labour politics.

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“I hope at some point that will be the opportunity to go back onto the front bench,” he tells The Yorkshire Post.

“I think if you’re here in opposition I think you’ve got a duty, a responsibility to step forward and do what you’re asked to do.

“Ultimately, the decisions about the front bench are with the leader of the party, so it’s a matter for him.

“But if (Sir Keir Starmer) phones me up and says ‘do I want to sit on the front bench?’ the answer would definitely be ‘yes’.”

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Mr Jarvis took on a number of briefs under Ed Miliband’s leadership, including as Shadow Culture Minister and later a Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister, and is tight lipped about any that may take his fancy now, suggesting that “sizing up the furniture and measuring the curtains” in any of his colleagues’ offices would be “a little bit undignified”.

Nonetheless, he does not hide his ambition to be at the forefront, speaking up for “the North”.

“I don’t have any particular agenda, there’s nothing I’ve got my eye on, but I’m not here to be chairing an all-party parliamentary group.

“I’ve given up a big role to come back into Parliament and I want to make a big contribution.

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“I think that I’ve got an experience from being a mayor and then experience from the life that I led before coming into politics. And at this particular moment in time, given all the pressures on the country, given the challenges that we face, whether that’s around cost of living, whether that is around the international situation in Ukraine, I want to be a part of that debate.”

He adds: “I want to be someone who can speak up not just for my constituents, but for the wider region and for the North, and deploy the things that I’ve learned over the past four years.”

Having performed this balancing act, through a pandemic and into the early days of this cost of living crisis – alongside all of the other local issues that have occurred in the meantime – Mr Jarvis seems to suggest that this leaves him in a fairly unique position when it comes to how he approaches Parliament.

“There’s only two of us in this place who have been a mayor.

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“I’m one of them, do you know the other one is?” he asks. The Prime Minister. So that is a skill set and an experience that is unique on my side.”

“That is the contribution I want to make, and I’ll be working as hard as I possibly can to make sure that I do that.”

Mr Jarvis’s chat with this paper was just 36 hours after he formally stepped down from the mayoral role, sitting in his House of Commons office serving up cups of tea in ‘I *Heart* Yorkshire’ mugs.

As we wrap up, a member of staff knocks on the door and there is then a rush to get to the Commons in time for what was an unexpected urgent question to a Minister on the war in Ukraine, a reminder of how demanding a Parliamentary job can be to perfect that balance of local constituency work with the national and international picture that dominates Westminster.

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Being an MP and a mayor at the same time was “unconventional, and controversial,” Mr Jarvis admits, and it opened him up to criticism, including from within his own party ranks.

“The past four years have been very demanding.

“I’ve had to personally commit a huge amount to doing those two jobs. I always knew that was going to be the case, it was going to be hard work.

“People have criticised me for it, I just generally point out to them that, of course, ministers are also members of parliament, the Prime Minister, is also a constituency Member of Parliament.

“So these things are doable, provided, you’re committed and you work hard, and you’ve got a good team of people to support you.”

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When it comes to holding both positions at once he insists he “always said it wasn’t a long term arrangement” and describes a “fierce bond of loyalty” he has with his constituents in Barnsley Central.

Politicians, they come and they go, and it is my constituents’ absolute right to get rid of me, if that’s what they want to do.

“They can vote me out.

“That is their privilege, and that is their absolute right. But I’m not going to walk away from them. I have a fierce bond of loyalty to the town of Barnsley and to my constituents. So faced with a choice of doing one or the other, I chose sticking with my constituents.

"That was the right thing to do.”